Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

2 posts from March 2009

18 March 2009

Saving the endangered records of Tuvalu

Rising sea levels are swallowing Tuvalu. Increased climate change is a threat to the people who live there and to their archival heritage. The National Archives at Tuvalu is also at risk of being washed away in a cyclone or being saturated and damaged by tidal surges. Little wonder then that they decided to copy some of their records.

The Tuvalu National Archives has formed the focus of two EAP projects. The first, a pilot project, copied quite a number of records from when they formed part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. This was the first project whose material I catalogued after joining the EAP. The final catalogue is available on the EAP web pages.

The records copied by the pilot project cover many aspects of government administration. Most of the records relate to land ownership and use, including a request from the inhabitants of Funafuti for “some form of continuing compensation from the permanent loss of their pulaka pits which were filled in by the Americans during the last war” (EAP005/COL9/4). I also found a letter from 1959, informing the Chairman of the Funafuti Island Council that they won’t be getting a visit from a dentist until 1960 (EAP005/COL1/9/8).

Tuvalu2 Education is also covered. This piece of correspondence lists the items girls needed to bring with them to the government school. Note that they needed to provide their own mosquito net and pillow, as well as 6 handkerchiefs and 1 dancing skirt.

Tuvalu1 Compare this to the items required of the boys. They must bring devotional books, hair oil and also 1 dancing skirt.

Tuvalu3 Finally, I was pleased to come across these tables showing the costs of building works. The “Village Development” table reveals that the Villages valued books and wanted 2 story public libraries in which to house them.

The records in this project were copied by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau.

05 March 2009

Collapse of Cologne City Archives

On 5 March the Cologne City Archive building collapsed. The archive contained over 26 kilometres of records dating back to the 10th century. This includes the personal papers of Nobel prize-winning author Heinrich Boell and records belonging to the composer Jacques Offenbach, Karl Marx, Hegel, and West Germany’s first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer - as well as photographs, maps and rare books. How much will be recovered is still unknown.

This disaster brought home just how fragile archives are, and how important. The people of Cologne have lost a vital link with their past. As a story from The Times states: 'The German city of Cologne woke up yesterday without a memory'. This memory loss, however large it turns out to be, will touch not just Cologne but the whole of Europe and the world.

Increasingly, libraries and archives are copying their holdings partly to mitigate the effects of a disaster. This has been going on for a long time, and indeed records from the Cologne City Archives had been copied onto microfilm and stored in another location. Many of the records copied as part of the EAP are endangered because they are at risk of being damaged or lost through disasters such as fire and flood. Many simply exist in unhealthy storage environments.

Bumka1 One of the more unusual threats to archives is butter lamps. The project Digital documentation of manuscript collection in Gangtey made digital copies of Buddhist manuscripts from Gangtey Monastery in Bhutan. These manuscripts are kept at the monastery and are in danger of accidentally being burnt from the butter lamps used by the monks. The project successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangety.


Most of these were written in the 17th century and are beautiful artefacts in their own right. Many were written in the dbu can calligraphy and begin with miniatures of the Buddha and Buddhist hierarchs.